Editorial: In free trade – out free choice for most

COLUMN Cecily McNeillAugust 2012  We all like to believe that we have total control over our own lives and our country’s elected leaders in their turn have control over what…


Cecily McNeill
August 2012 

We all like to believe that we have total control over our own lives and our country’s elected leaders in their turn have control over what happens in the country.

A key plank of Catholic social teaching is subsidiarity where decisions are made at the lowest level possible to give people as much control over the areas that most affect them.
But the numbers of people who can make free choices is fast diminishing. Readers will have seen the front page story in this issue of Wel-com about what happened to two Brazilian fishermen who took on a multinational company which was polluting their fishery.

The UN Earth Summit Rio+20 featured in the centre pages of this paper revealed that 600 multinational companies have near total control over our lives, companies over which even shareholders have little control.

The government is at present discussing setting up a free-trade Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement. The next round of talks is due to start next month in Leesburg near Washington DC. The United States would like the agreement to be signed off by the end of the year but the US Chamber of Commerce head says it will be more like late 2013 or even 2014 before agreement is reached.

To look at one aspect of the agreement … New Zealand enjoys the cheapest drugs available because the government drug-buying agency, Pharmac, searches out generic drugs to do the same job as those of the big name brands.

If the TPPA is signed as it is, a US-based pharmaceutical company could sue the New Zealand Government using the investor-state disputes process for preferring a generic drug to its own brand.

We have seen prime minister John Key demurring in recent weeks over calls for plain packed cigarettes. Even before the TPPA is in place it is anyone’s guess which cigarette manufacturer is putting pressure on him to maintain the status quo. Yet, smoking has been shown to be implicated in deaths from numerous diseases including cancer and strokes – a biggie in this country.

The people of New Zealand may lose the ability once the TPPA is in place to read the contents of a simple tube of toothpaste.

TPPA talks are being held in secret making it impossible to effectively lobby against the agreement being signed but more than 60 lawyers including well known jurist Sir Ted Thomas signed a letter to negotiators before the last round of talks in May asking them to reject the right of investors to sue governments.

The right to own water
Another concern is the water rights that iwi have been lobbying for recently. The Waitangi Tribunal has asked that sales of shares in some power companies be stalled until it can rule on a Maori Council claim that Maori have had what are in Pakeha terms full ownership rights of water since 1840.

John Key says nobody owns the water. But would he say this if the Chinese slipped in a sizable bid to operate a shellfish farm off the Wairarapa coast?

Now more than ever before, Catholics need to understand and lobby for subsidiarity to be practised in government before the land, waters and all the nation’s rights to tools for good health and clean environment are signed away.